My mother is not an excessive decorator most of the time, but at Christmas that changes. Dramatically. As anyone who has been in our house in December can attest, my mother’s love for Christmas is clearly evident in the sheer volume of Santa Clauses and snowpeople and gingerbread people, evergreen garland, poinsettia flowers, and twinkly lights. The normal house decorations are unceremoniously stored away and surface space is cleared wherever possible to house my mom’s dearest items of home decor. Anywhere you look, you are sure to be met by a visual display of holiday cheer.
Her love of seasonal decor developed, I believe, gradually over the years; at least, her display has grown considerably since my childhood. But Christmas was always a time of magic in our house. It was a time of nearly unbearable excitement and anticipation as the December weeks crept by and neatly-wrapped boxes began appearing under the tree. I can still feel the joy I took in helping my dad to put Christmas lights on the house, which I loved partially because of the way that even modest lights make any dwelling seem to be a more wonderful place, and in part because it was one of the few times in a year when I was allowed to be up on the roof–limited access automatically rendered it a place of mystery and excitement, and I, unlike my brother, did not get on the roof without permission.
My childhood, like many people’s, was accented by this season. I mean, Christmas is the best time of the year to be a child because of the way it feels. But I grew up, and one year I realized that somewhere along the way I had just lost that feeling that used to come over me at Christmas. And, with sadness, I felt certain that I had no way to get it back.
At least, that’s what I thought.
But this year, as the holidays began to approach, I realized that my heart was bursting with gratitude. Since then, I have felt a heightened awareness of my status as blessed. This wasn’t brought on by some event or gift; it has nothing to do with circumstance. Rather, it’s a humbling awareness of how truly fortunate I am to have all of my needs met, to have a life with which I am deeply content, to be surrounded by people who love me and whom I also love. My heart was prepared to receive this season again, in a grown-up way.
And then, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, my church did a terribly small, wonderful thing: we lit a candle on an Advent wreath. For those of you who have been a part of traditions that have always celebrated Advent, this may seem highly un-extraordinary. But I never really knew what Advent was until a few years ago, having grown up in a tradition in which some congregations don’t even celebrate Christmas (though mine always has). Advent is pretty new to us as a congregation, and this is the first year in which we have celebrated it together. And as I listened to the Advent readings and prayers upon the lighting of the candle, I smiled.
You see, I had been missing that old feeling of anticipation that used to accompany the weeks leading up to Christmas. I had been sad that I couldn’t feel that way again. But Advent is a time of anticipation, of expectant waiting, during which the faithful prepare their hearts to celebrate the coming of Christ so long ago and His continuing incarnation in our own lives. And so I began to feel again that sensation of hopeful anticipation, of longing and excitement. Certainly, it’s not the same as being a child waiting to open Christmas presents. But I’m not sure I want exactly that feeling again anyway; it was fun then, but as an adult, I am less inclined to enjoy that sort of ravenous excitement. In many ways, this anticipation, this joyful, grateful peace with which I am overcome, this is much better than anything I experienced as a child.
And so this year, for the first time in a long time, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.